I've been thinking a lot about identity and belonging recently, amongst other deep things prompted by the Never Again virtual retreat experiment I've been working on in the last week. And of course by That Cartoon Row.
Probably because I'm an only child, I've never been at all good at belonging to organised groups and can't say I like them much. Watching the Quakers regularly tear each other apart over what they should and shouldn't believe is rather sad. If they weren't always trying to keep it together as a coherent group (there is a popular saying that organising Quakers is like herding cats) they could get on with things they have real talent at, like abolishing slavery and reforming prisons. I've always felt their view of 'that of God' is perfectly compatible with the whole spectrum of spiritual beliefs, it seems to be the 'that' which is the most important element there, denoting a shared experience of something that binds us together as humans and the external mysteries that are forces for good (or bad). But people normally get cross when I make theological statements.
The only group I've really claimed membership to is Londoners and now that my London generally extends only from one side of Euston Road to t'other, I really miss being a Londoner. Londoners have really managed to crack the one problem that many other communities struggle with: including people and genuinely enjoying their diversity. My happiest London memories are of events like Respect at the Millennium Dome, dancing to Indian-inspired pop, or the riverside crowds milling around different ethnic food stalls. In Stoke there is a pervasive sense of natives vs everyone else and, despite its famed friendliness, in times of trouble the natives snap into fear and defensiveness. Whereas in London, ethnic areas tend to be adopted by the trendy young (partly because they are the cheapest for students but also because they like them, despite the dangers in some), in Stoke they are seen as ghettos and you are told you 'wont' be welcome' to areas like Cobridge. London was secure enough that even the bombs couldn't divide us: they probably had a greater effect on community relations and racism in the North than Bloomsbury, where people were actually killed.
So where does it leave me, left out? I hope it isn't too twee to say I feel part of humanity, the global community. Never Again, as an organisation in its very early stages, has given me a real sense of being able to act as an individual as part of a wider picture. I've learnt an emormous amount from people with totally different backgrounds from all over the world. I now see my own views as valid, but part of a greater tapestry of views and enjoy the challenge of engaging with perspectives that are totally different. I want to be part of a community that has one thing in common - its own humanity - and works to accept, even enjoy, different views and beliefs. Actions that infringe on others' human rights are indefensible but beyond that our different global systems are completely compatible if we accept that we don't have to be the same, we don't have to agree with each other and constructive conflict is natural, even healthy. Conflict, if partnered with dialogue, leads us to creative ideas that may never have been thought of in our own unchallenged worlds.
So that's my community, one that the internet makes more possible than ever before.
And finally a post that gets my hair off the top of the blog!